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One From the Archive: ‘The Beauty and the Beast’ by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve ****

First published in October 2017.

2017 seems a fitting year in which to read The Beauty and the Beast, as Disney released its live action blockbuster just a few months ago.  I did love the cartoon film as a child – my particular fondness, of course, was for the tiny chipped teacup and the glimpse of Belle’s library – but was very underwhelmed by the new interpretation.  Regardless, I had never read Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original story before, and made up my mind to do so, tying it in with this year’s Reading the World Challenge.9780062456212

I’m sure everyone already knows the story of The Beauty and the Beast, but if not, I will offer a short recap.  The tale of a merchant opens the story; once prosperous, he has lost his fortune due to one catastrophe after another.  He moves his sizeable family – six daughters and six sons – to a secluded house which he owns, one hundred miles away.  Of the effects which this has upon the merchant’s largely spoilt and self-obsessed daughters, de Villeneuve writes: ‘They thought that if they wished only for a husband they would obtain one; but they did not remain very long in such a delightful illusion.  They had lost their greatest attractions when, like a flash of lightning, their father’s splendid fortune had disappeared, and their time for choosing had departed with it.  Their crowd of admirers vanished at the moment of their downfall; their beauty was not sufficiently powerful to retain one of them’.  The girls have no choice but to ‘shut themselves up in their country house, situated in the middle of an almost impenetrable forest, and which might well be considered the saddest abode in the world.’

The family’s youngest daughter, sixteen-year-old Beauty, is the anomaly.  She has so much compassion and empathy for her family, and is a refreshing addition to a brood of rather horrid, vain girls.  She in fact shows strength in the face of the family’s new-found adversity: ‘She bore her lot cheerfully, and with strength of mind much beyond her years’.  When her father has to undertake a long journey in the hope of reclaiming some of his former possessions, her sisters clamour for new dresses and finery.  Beauty simply asks him to bring her back a rose.  Her father is subsequently caught in a snowstorm which disorientates him, and seeks shelter in an enormous, grand castle.  He finds no inhabitant, but regardless, a meal is presented to him in a cosy room.  He – for no explicit reason – decides that, with no sign of an owner about, the castle must now belong to him.

The merchant becomes rather cocksure, and decides to kill two birds with one stone, taking a rose for his beloved younger daughter from the castle’s garden.  It is at this point that he is given his comeuppance, and reprimanded by the Beast, the castle’s owner: ‘He was terribly alarmed upon perceiving at his side a horrible beast, which, with an air of fury, laid upon his neck a kind of trunk, resembling an elephant’s…’.  The Beast pardons him only in exchange for one of his daughters.  When the merchant describes his plight, five of his six daughters are, unsurprisingly, selfish, and believe that he should sacrifice himself for their benefit.  Beauty, however, steps up to the mark, and is taken to the castle to live with the Beast.

The Beauty and the Beast has been so well plotted, and has many elements of the traditional fairytale in its favour.  Despite this, it goes further; its length allows de Villeneuve to really explore what could be termed magical realism.  The vivid dreams which Beauty has are beautifully depicted, and tension is built at times.  I found The Beauty and the Beast just as enjoyable as I would have as a child.  The magic which weaves its way through the novel cannot fail to draw one under its spell; there are talking animals, enchanted mirrors, and things which appear and disappear.  The talking crockery and candelabra are very much Disney additions; the novel reads as a far more fresh, and less gimmicky, version of the story.

I am pleased that I chose to read the unabridged version of de Villeneuve’s story, which was published in its original French in 1740.  This particular edition has been translated and adapted by Rachel Louise Lawrence, who has very much retained a lot of its antiquity.  The sentence structure is quite old-fashioned – charmingly so, in fact.  The writing and translation here are fluid and lovely.  I would urge you, if you’ve not seen the film, to pick up this delightful tome instead.  There is so much substance here, and it should definitely be placed alongside children’s classics such as The Railway Children and Mary Poppins.

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‘When I Was A Wolf’ by Terayama Shūji ****

As winter is settling down for good and Christmas is fast approaching, what better way to spend those chilly days than cosy up with a hot beverage and a good book of fairy tale-inspired stories. 61II3YJTd9L

My fascination with fairy tales and folk stories is nothing new, so as soon as I found out about When I Was A Wolf, a book of classic Western fairy tale retellings by Terayama Shūji, a Japanese author, I was incredibly excited to get my hands on it. Fairy tale retellings have been quite popular for a long time now, but since they are usually retold by a Western perspective, I thought it would be very intriguing to gain some insight on what a Japanese author would make of those Western tales most of us grew up with and are so fond of.

Terayama Shūji doesn’t merely retell the classic fairy tales that have been chosen for this collection, but instead he twists and turns them into an entirely different entity. Attempting to give them an adult twist, much like Angela Carter had also done, Terayama creates stories that are definitely not suitable for children, mostly due to the numerous sexual references and inuendos. One such example is Pinocchio’s nose, which is being turned into a phallus that grows more and more whenever he tells a lie. This collection is excellently translated by Elizabeth L. Armstrong, who also wrote a very useful and highly informative preface to the book, giving some much needed insight into the author’s style and literary achievements.

The book is divided into two main parts. The first one contains some essays and thought pieces where Terayama explains his interpretation of fairy tales like ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, ‘Puss in Boots’, ‘Pinocchio’, as well as of literary masterpieces like Ibsen’s ‘Doll House’, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘Don Quixote’ and so on. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed his literary voice and the way he expressed his opinion, even if it was one that I wouldn’t always agree with. Terayama is a very talented critic and most of his opinions on the literary pieces he commented on were spot on and gave me a lot to ponder. What shines through the entire book, though, is undoubtedly his wit and sense of humour. Every sentence, every remark he makes is witty and purposeful and I believe this is what made me truly enjoy this book in the end.

The second part contains the actual retellings of fairy tales by Andersen, Aesop’s Fables and Perrault’s Mother Goose, which Terayama turns into adult-themed stories. Although it was this part of the book I was most looking forward to reading, I have to admit I was slightly disappointed in the result. Yes, the author’s wit and caustic humour encompass his writing and that makes it enjoyable, but I was probably expecting something different. In most cases, instead of a full-fledged story, we get a conglomeration of opinion pieces, “readers’ letters” and a partial rewriting of the fairy tale in question. I soon came to realise, though, that this is just Terayama’s writing style and my disappointment is mostly due to my creating unrealistic expectations, as I was expecting a rather conventionally retold story, if I can call it that.

Elizabeth L. Armstrong, the translator, perfectly describes the experience of reading Terayama’s essays and stories in her preface: “His work is often like a piece of performance art you simply cannot tear your eyes away from, so you bear witness to it, awash with feelings of revulsion, morbid attraction, revelation and compassion” (p. vii). This first encounter with Terayama’s work might not have been what I expected, but it definitely piqued my interest and made me want to seek more of his work, especially since he’s an author I had never heard of before.

Have you read this book? Do you enjoy fairy tale retellings and if yes, which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

A copy of the book was very kindly sent to me by the publisher, Kurodahan Press.

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‘The Juniper Tree’ by Barbara Comyns *****

The Juniper Tree has been adapted from the Brothers Grimm fairy story of the same name of which, author Barbara Comyns writes, ‘is far too macabre for adult reading’.  The novel, which was first published in 1985, was Comyns’ first novel for eighteen years.  It has been deemed ‘very cunningly continued indeed… [it] could hardly be more satisfactorily accomplished’ by the Times Literary Supplement.comyns-1_2048x2048

Before launching into my review, I have chosen to include the original rhyme from the Brothers Grimm story to give one a feel for the darkness of the tale:

“My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlinchen,
Gathered together my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird I am.”

‘The Juniper Tree’ is one of my favourite fairytales, and whilst I enjoy reading retellings of such familiar stories, I find that they can often be quite predictable in places.  Not so here.  Protagonist Bella Winter, single mother to an illegitimate young girl named Marline, is soon woven into the story of German woman Gertrude Forbes.  Bella’s first glimpse of Gertrude is ‘at once fairytale and sinister, and so the pattern is set for their future friendship…  As the snows thaw and different configurations emerge, so Bella, Gertrude and her husband Bernard take on the roles of a macabre, magical story which will conclude on the other side of madness.’

The novel opens with Bella’s lilting voice, and begins to set the recurring contrasts of beauty and darkness which can be found throughout the novel: ‘Quite soon after I left Richmond Station I turned into a quiet street where the snow was almost undisturbed and, climbing higher, I came to a road that appeared to be deserted.  Then I noticed a beautiful fair woman standing in the courtyard outside her house like a statue, standing there so still.  As I drew nearer I saw that her hands were moving.  She was paring an apple out there in the snow and as I passed, looking at her out of the sides of my eyes, the knife slipped, and suddenly there was blood on the snow.’

When Bella, who is looking for work and a fresh start, finds a position in an antiques shop in Twickenham, she becomes friendly with Gertrude, whom she soon discovers is the woman she viewed in the snow.  In one of the most obvious echoes of the original story, Gertrude begins to call Bella’s daughter Marlinchen.  A while later, after a firm but quite unusual friendship has been formed, ‘Gertrude conceives the child which has long eluded her, and the spell breaks into foreboding, menace and madness.’

This menace, and sense that something is not quite right, is captured perfectly.  Just before Gertrude gives birth, the following occurs: ‘We had our last picnic under the juniper tree, Gertrude ignoring the food I’d arranged on the table but almost greedily gulping down the last of the juniper berries that grew on the shady side of the tree – the berries so blue and poisonous-looking, and smelling strange too.  I’d seen her do this before; but this time she was snatching at the fruit with her long white hands and putting several in her mouth at once, and her lips became stained and her dress all spattered with the needle-leaves.’  Comyns also writes wonderfully about the nature of change, not just in regard to Gertrude’s body in pregnancy, but in the natural world too.

To those who have read any of Comyns’ work in the past, it goes without saying that she writes wonderfully.  An immediate feel is given for the characters, and the story has been vividly transposed to its English setting of the 1980s.  Comyns’ retelling is haunting, particularly as it reaches its climax.  The voice here, whilst manifested through the character of Bella, is distinctively Comyns’ own.

There are twists here which it would be unfair to reveal; this is a novel far better digested with no preconceptions or foreknowledge of Comyns’ adaptations.  The Juniper Tree is a highly accomplished standalone novel, but knowledge of the original fairytale seems necessary in order to better appreciate Comyns’ clever interpretation.  One can pinpoint what might happen at times if familiar with the original, but there are still some surprises along the way.  Dark and beguiling, The Juniper Tree is a masterful novel which I highly recommend.

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‘The Singing Bones’ by Shaun Tan ****

In his inspired and unique take on the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, Shaun Tan presents seventy-five of their stories, each with an accompanying sculpture.  He has photographed each of these interpretations beautifully, with light and shadow coming into play almost as much as the objects themselves. 9781760111038

The Singing Bones includes an introduction by fantasy aficionado Neil Gaiman, and an insightful essay by Jack Zipes, entitled ‘How the Brothers Grimm Made Their Way in the World’.  Tan himself adds an afterword, which, despite its brevity, demonstrates his passion for his interpretation.  He has chosen to take extracts from Zipes’ 1987 translation of the Grimm tales; his text feels fresh and modern, whilst still getting across the horror of many of the stories.

Tan has focused upon both well-known tales – for instance, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and ‘Snow White’ – as well as the more unusual.  Tan’s accompanying sculptures are beguiling and strange; some of them are even creepy.  Despite their differences, there is a marvellous coherence at play here; details have been followed from one sculpture to another, from the set of the eyes of particular characters, to their absence in others.  He has a style all his own.  Of his work, Gaiman says: ‘His sculptures suggest; thy do not describe.  They imply; they do not delineate.  They are, in themselves, stories – not the frozen moments in time that a classical illustration needs to be.  These are something new, something deeper.  They do not look like moments of the stories: instead, they feel like the stories themselves.’

In his introduction, Gaiman writes: ‘People read stories.  It’s one of the things that makes us who we are.  We crave stories because they make us more than ourselves, they give us escape and they give us knowledge.  They entertain us and they change us, as they have changed and entertained us for thousands of years.’  This sums up Tan’s achievement perfectly; he has worked with a slew of stories which we are all familiar with, but has managed to make them entirely his own.  The way in which Tan has managed so seamlessly to translate his distinctive style from illustrations and graphic novels into the three-dimensional form shows that he is an incredibly talented and versatile artist.  The Singing Bones is a marvellous choice for all fans of fairytales, or for those who want to see how the same story can be so differently presented.

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One From The Archive: ‘The True Story of Hansel and Gretel’ by Louise Murphy ****

First published in 2013.

9780142003077I am drawn to stories set during the Second World War, particularly when those stories are involved with survival.  I will read anything to do with this topic, from the diaries of those who hid from captors, to fictional accounts of the ways in which both capture and death could be evaded.  I also love fairytales, and modern day adaptations of old favourites.  I had therefore had my eye upon Louise Murphy’s The True Story of Hansel and Gretel for quite some time, and began it as soon as I had procured a copy.

Throughout, I found the novel incredibly powerful – unsettling so at times.  The sense of place and atmosphere which Murphy built up were truly stunning.  I loved the way in which she transferred the fairytale to a believable historical setting – World War Two in Poland, where two young children – renamed Hansel and Gretel by their father so that they appear to be more German – are left in the woods.  They soon come across the house of an elderly lady named Magda, who is purported to be the town’s ‘witch’.

Throughout, Murphy has successfully brought some of the horrors of the Holocaust back to life, and she describes the struggle for survival which Hansel and Gretel and their new family endure so poignantly.  Each scene, particularly with regard to the darker ones, were incredibly vivid.

The author has created a wonderfully crafted and memorable tale, which I found very difficult to put down.  Murphy’s ideas were so clever throughout, and the original tale woven in so cleverly, that I am hoping she will continue the theme of updating fairytales, making them fit into both our generation and our history.

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A Creative Conversation with Kirsty Logan

I have something a little different, but still eminently literary, for you today!  At the University of Glasgow, we are lucky enough to have some excellent extracurricular talks organised for us by the English and Creative Writing departments.  These are arranged under the umbrella heading of ‘Creative Conversations’, and take place every Monday lunchtime.  Yesterday marked the first of these, and what better guest could the University have selected but Creative Writing alumna Kirsty Logan?

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I wasn’t quite quick enough to snap a good photo whilst Kirsty was talking, so here’s a lovely picture I borrowed from her website (www.kirstylogan.com)

I am quite a fan of Logan’s work, and have been for rather a long time now (you can read my gushing review of The Gracekeepers here).  Although yesterday’s crowd sadly didn’t quite fill the chapel in which the Conversations take place, the audience felt warm and receptive, and I can only hope that Logan felt the same about this.

Suitably Hallowe’en themed down to Logan’s skeleton-themed outfit, the hour-long talk began with a spellbinding reading of ‘The Keep’, and included a new and incredibly chilling story entitled ‘My Body Cannot Forget Your Body’.  The tales were interspersed with questions from the chair Rob Maslin, and members of the audience.  I came unprepared, I am sad to admit, and therefore didn’t volunteer myself to ask anything, but I very much enjoyed the breadth of the questions which were asked, and doubt I could have done much better myself.  They ranged from the inspiration which Logan found on her recent month-long trip to an Icelandic writers’ retreat, to the influence of her family members upon her writing; the short of it is that she does not tend to write about those she knows, as ‘everyone needs a secret which they can keep just to themselves’.

Logan discussed many things about her writing: perspective, and the use of the first and second person narrative voices (‘I quite like the reader to inhabit the story… so each has a different interpretation.  Anything’s right…  You should always give the reader space…  I quite like to speak to the reader… [and] use a direct address’); her preference of writing short stories with the use of a frame narrative; her hope to always be able to alternate between writing novels and short stories; her upcoming project (which will be set in a pseudo-Icelandic landscape); and her insistence that she doesn’t count herself as a novelist.  Rather, she inferred, she prefers to write a lot of short stories and link them together.  She is interested – as anyone who has read any of her work will know – in experimenting with the traditional form, and takes much inspiration from fairytales.  As an impatient reader herself, wanting the author to get straight into the action, she has always been inspired by the directness of fairytales and their power.  She also spoke at length about the timelessness of the fairytale form, and how we in the modern world can still relate to the tales; indeed, ‘The Keep’ is a retelling of ‘Bluebeard’.

In the pipeline for Logan are more books (both a short story collection and a novel), a visual arts project, and a couple of films.  She also expressed her longing to work on written video games.  She is currently attempting to write about things which scare her, prompted in part by the isolated writers’ retreat, in which she was left alone for great parts of the day away from her friends and family.  This led her to speak about her craft: ‘I can’t write when I’m happy.  When I write I need to be sad, or lonely, or grieving in some way’.  The writing side of her life is viewed by her almost as an alter ego; a ‘separate persona’ that she ‘vaguely’ knows.  This distinction is important for her: ‘Everything I write is so personal, but then as soon as it’s on the page, it isn’t you anymore’.

Eloquent and warm, Kirsty Logan is a marvellous speaker, with a wonderful reading voice, and full and thoughtful responses to everything asked of her.  The inaugural Creative Conversation of this season was wonderful, and hopefully paves the way for many more interesting and inspiring talks.  I shall leave the last word to Logan herself: ‘We can still find truth in stories’.

(Just FYI, Kirsty’s blog is a wonderful place to go to if you’re looking for something a little different to read.)

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‘Homunculus: Fairy Tales From the Left Pocket’ by Aleksandar Prokopiev ***

Whilst little known in the United Kingdom (as far as I am aware, anyway), Aleksandar Prokopiev is Macedonia’s most famous writer and musician.  Many of the haunting tales in his Homunculus: Fairy Tales From the Left Pocket are based upon traditional fairytales, and some are rooted within Macedonian folk tales, but all without fail contain ‘very adult themes’.  The winner of the Balkanika Prize in 2012, Homunculus has been translated by Will Firth.

Before I begin to discuss the book, it is worth detouring for a paragraph to demonstrate the wonderful things which Istros Books are bringing to the book market in the UK.  An independent London-based publisher, their aim (much like that of Peirene Press) is to ‘specialise in English translations of extraordinary writing from unfamiliar places’.  Rather than focus upon Europe as a whole, Eastern Europe is where the generally unheard of gems which Istros lovingly translate were originally published.

In Homunculus, Prokopiev ‘concocts a potent mix of the erotic and the tragic, of guilt and of longing – and of existential alienation’.  The blurb states: ‘The author has largely retained the classical fairy tale structure with its elements of surprise and the constant intertwining of the real and unreal, but he transcends the sugar-sweet endings that are so familiar to us’.  In her foreword to the volume, poet Fiona Sampson writes the following: ‘These shape-shifting stories remain adamantly, radically open for us to interpret.  They challenge us to accept, even to embrace, our own confusion…  To read them is to glimpse the wildness at the heart of Europe’.  She goes on to intone that his ‘fiction resembles very little that will be familiar to English readers.  It has the fantastical darkness of folk material but, like the novels of Angela Carter, it inflects this matter with high cultural allusions’.

The variety of settings and plots within Homunculus are described as ‘exciting and kaleidoscopic’.  The styles here show the sheer creativity which Prokopiev brings to his fiction.  ‘Tom Thumb’ is a monologue spoken to the narrator’s mother, and there are also varied third person narratives, and fableistic tales.  Whilst not for the faint-hearted due to its graphic scenes and content, Homunculus is a fascinating short story collection, and the more sinister edge of the fairytale theme which is woven throughout is what gives the whole coherence.  Places and moods are so well captured, and all of the above ensures that Homunculus is an engaging piece in consequence.

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The Fifty Women Challenge: ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter ***

A few of the choices on mine and Yamini’s Fifty Women Challenge list are authors whom I very much enjoy, but I am still only scratching the surface of their work.  Angela Carter is one such woman.

9780140178210I must admit that I have found her work a little hit and miss in the past.  I very much enjoyed The Moving Toyshop, and still think that the magical realism within it, and the beguiling and creepy elements, have no real equal in contemporary literature.  I have found a few of her other novels a little less enticing, however, despite her holding such a prominent place on the Virago Modern Classics list.

I had been very much looking forward to reading The Bloody Chamber for such a long time, and thought that I would very much enjoy it, loving twists upon fairytales as I do.  I was therefore thrilled when I found a copy of Carter’s Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Stories in a local charity shop, albeit a rather battered one.

A few weeks before I had planned to read The Bloody Chamber, my dear friend Belinda told me how disappointed she was with the collection, particularly with regard to the way in which Carter had subjected all of the male characters within it to some form of weakness, so that her female protagonists could subjugate them.

Still, I began the stories with an open mind.  Each of the tales here presents a series of (mostly) clever twists upon well-known fairytales.  I found that Carter’s writing is often careful and really quite wonderful, particularly within the title story which opens the collection.  Her vivid descriptions and general prose in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ were both lovely and rather disturbing.  Incredibly strange elements manifest themselves throughout, something which will surely not surprise anyone who is already familiar with her work.

As I often find with short story collections, some of the tales were far better than others; I felt that the originality tailed off a little after the first few stories, and never really reached the same level again.  Some of them felt too developed, and others were not developed enough; there was no real balance struck between the two.  There were a lot of similarities within the plots too, and a lot of them seemed to circle around (were)wolves, which I have very little interest in.

To comment upon the males within the collection, they were utterly void of strength in places, and rather unnecessarily so.  It was always the women who had to act as the rescuers, and the men who had to act as the victims.  I could see what Carter was trying to do within The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, but it just didn’t really follow the boundaries of the real world, which the stories themselves still purported to be set within.  Feminism should not be about weakening males in comparison to females; it should be about equality – something which does not seem to exist within the realms of this collection.  To conclude, I really did enjoy the overriding fairytale theme within The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, but feel that Carter could have been a touch more creative with it at times.

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One From the Archive: ‘The Fairies Return: Or, New Tales for Old’ by Peter Llewelyn Davies ****

First published in September 2012.

Originally published in 1934, The Fairies Return was the first volume of modernist fairytales printed in Great Britain. Peter Llewelyn Davies, the adoptive son of famous author J.M. Barrie, was its original compiler. The stories in the collection have been ‘retold for modern times and mature sensibilities’, and all of them serve to ‘expose social anxieties, political corruption, predatory economic behaviour, and destructive appetites’.

The introduction to the volume has been written by Maria Tatar, chair of the program in Folklore and Mythology at Harvard University. This introduction is both informative and rather extensive and spans Britain’s growing interest in fairytales, which she considers to be ‘an indigenous body of lore’. Indeed, says Tatar, Davies’ book focuses upon ‘the promise of what “satire” originally meant… a mixture of different things blended to suit discerning tastes’.

The stories featured are written by a wide variety of different authors, all of them prominent in the 1930s. These range from the recognisable E.M. Delafield, Eric Linklater and Christina Stead, to those who deserve more modern day recognition for their work. Davies commissioned each of the stories himself from writers he both knew and trusted, creating what Tatar deems to be a ‘rich mosaic of stories’. Each author has taken a traditional text from sources such as Perrault’s fairytales or those of the Brothers Grimm, and has based their own upon it.

The tales themselves are all diverse and take a vast range of different tales as their foundations. A.E. Coppard’s rather inventive descriptions of giants, ‘all intent on saving the country’ in ‘Jack the Giant Killer’, with ‘their faces resembling Big Ben’, work wonderfully: ‘whenever one of them took a pinch of snuff and sneezed, the metropolis for a moment was in a shower of rain’.

This beautifully produced reissue, published by Princeton University Press and part of the ‘Oddly Modern Fairy Tales’ series, features an illustration on its front cover which dates back to 1939. It is an extremely well laid out volume, and its introduction and author biographies make lovely additions to the book.

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‘The Sleeper and The Spindle’ by Neil Gaiman ****

Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and The Spindle is illustrated by Chris Riddell; here, the two have collaborated upon rekindling ‘their bestselling partnership for a beautiful and unique fairy tale that puts a daring queen at the very heart of the adventure’.  The blurb states that in ‘twisting together the familiar in the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents’.

The day before her wedding, a young queen ‘sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment’ which is fast engulfing the whole of the kingdom. Gaiman sets the scene immediately: ‘It was the closest kingdom to the queen’s, as the crow flies, but not even the crows flew it.  The high mountain range that served as the border between the two kingdoms [of Dorimar and Kanselaire] discouraged crows as much as it discouraged people, and it was considered unpassable’.  The enchantress who has cast the spell upon the castle in which the princess lies is ‘old as the hills, evil as a snake, all malevolence and magic and death’.  Throughout, the prose has a fable-like tone to it, and it reminds one of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in terms of some of the elements which converge to create the mini-plots within it.

The Sleeper and The Spindle is both imaginative and inventive.  The queen is a strong character, powerful both in terms of her standing within the kingdom, and her determination and actions.  The way in which the plot follows different characters at simultaneous periods works wonderfully.  The elements which Gaiman has woven in add depth to the original story, from the voyage of self-discovery which the queen takes, to friendship and loyalty.  Appearances are deceptive, however; whilst The Sleeper and The Spindle looks as though it is suitable for a very young audience, there is definite darkness within it, and not all of the scenes may be suitable for children.

The book itself is beautiful; the black and white illustrations are accented with gold paint, and the transparent dustjacket is a lovely touch.  So much thought has been put into the use of words and pictures, and they complement each other beautifully.  The Sleeper and The Spindle is certainly a very enjoyable fairytale retelling.

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